Party of three

A third political party is an important aspect of the Virginia democratic process

Republican party candidate Robert Hurt is refusing to enter a debate with opponent Tom Perriello in the Cumberland County NAACP debate because third party candidate  Jeff Clark will be in attendance.  As  reported by the Huffington post "Since October of last year Robert has engaged in dozens of public debates in counties and cities all across the 5th District," said Hurt campaign spokesperson Amanda Henneberg. "As we have made clear from the beginning of this campaign, Robert is happy to debate Congressman Perriello one-on-one anytime, anywhere." This is a very undemocratic position for Robert Hurt to take because a three party system is not only a rich part of American history, but the third party plays an influential role in American politics.

The third party has been known to change the outcome of entire elections and provide a face and voice to issues that the Democratic and Republican parties are afraid to touch. The third party is not afraid to interrupt the status quo. Given the tradition and past successes of a third party, Clark's presence in the debate is relevant. By denying the opportunity for Jeff Clark to enter the debate, not only is the Virginia citizen being denied the opportunity to make an informed vote, the government is also essentially creating a democracy that is within the realms of who State Senator Robert Hurt deems as appropriate.

In the 1912 elections, Theodore Roosevelt formed the Progressive party after his disappointment in his selected predecessor William Taft. Roosevelt was concerned with Taft's increasingly conservative policies; he decided to take matters into his own hands and create his own party.  The significant element of the Progressive party, known then as the Bull Moose Party, was that the party appealed to the voters and included a broad range of social and political reforms such as women's suffrage, a constitutional amendment to allow a Federal income tax, and Social insurance, all of provisions we have today. However, the most important accomplishment is that the Bull Moose Party changed the outcome of the election. Roosevelt split the Republican votes in half taking 27 percent of the votes, while Taft received only 23 percent. This split in votes allowed University alumnus Woodrow Wilson to win the election with only 42 percent of the votes.

The three party system allows voters to cast a "protest vote," a vote that will not be lost on either candidate. The two party system silences many dissenters and thereby takes away from the fundamental purpose of democracy, which is to give a voice to the people. The right to protest is part of our first amendment right. In that same vein, the two party system does not accurately portray the diversity of opinions of the people.

The benefit of independent parties is that they are able to have unconventional platforms. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are limited in their respective political views, as they must remain consistent with the moderate values of their respective parties to gain popular vote. A third party, however, can voice to the major parties how the American people feel by demonstrating the public support on issues overlooked by the bipartisan government because such views were considered too extreme.

The two party system forces the third party to join their group in a winner take all system. The alternative to the dichotomy that we created is a fusion party. A  fusion party system is where smaller groups may fuse together to present a single candidate. This alternative forces the major political parties to look at the ideologies of the smaller groups to determine a multiparty platform that appeals to all voters. The winner-takes-all system enables major political parties to look over the viewpoints of voters because voters have no other option than to look at one of two candidates.

There is no constitutional provision that only allows for two parties. Throughout the entire Constitution, there is no mention of political parties. The party system is a socially constructed institution, of which there are no fundamental rules for how parties should act. Therefore, there is no legal basis that Hunt can exclude Clark from the debate, whereas there is a legal provision in the constitution, specifically our First amendment right, for Clark to speak at the debate. While Hurt can legally deny Clark entrance in the debate, ethically however, as a candidate for office Hurt should uphold the values of our constitution.

While it may be tempting for Hurt to deny Clark's entrance in the debate to protect his votes, as a candidate for government office he should not interfere with the integrity of American politics. Hurt is interfering with our country's traditions as well as ignoring the practical reasoning behind a third party. Hurt is manipulating the core values of American democracy. By denying the opportunity for Jeff Clark to debate, he is not only encroaching upon the ethics behind the first amendment constitutional rights, but he is also denying the American citizen the opportunity to make an informed decision when they vote.

Ashley Ford is an opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

Published September 17, 2010 in Opinion

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Joel Taubman
(09/17/10 7:56pm)

In the second to last paragraph: "... there is no legal basis that Hu[r]t can exclude Clark from the debate..." and "Hurt can legally deny Clark entrance in the debate..." I am a little confused.

(09/17/10 10:13pm)

While I wonder of Ashley would be so enthusiastic if this were a Green Party candidate that might siphon votes away from Mr. Periello - I agree that anyone on the ballott should be included in all debates. Even David Toscano allowed Robert Smith (a homeless chap who also is an avid reader in Alderman lounge) debated Robert Smith in the House of Delegates race recently. Smith ended up getting over 20% of the vote.

But this rule needs to apply across the board. Ross Perot being included in the presidential debates with the two main party candidates while others were locked out (a clever trick from the media) is the only reason Bill Clinton ever got elected. He never got 50% of the vote.

It's too bad there wasn't also a Green Party candidate to make 4 here, but I still recall how Mr. Periello's election loss in 2008 suddenly turned into a win when the City of Charlottesville found him 600+ "surprise votes" a few days after the election. The elections commisoner at City Hall described this discovery of all those votes that flipped the result as "unexplainable"

Joel Taubman
(09/19/10 3:01am)

Since when does every person who can walk, talk, chew gum, and get a few hundred signatures deserve a podium. Last time I checked, debates were run by private institutions, or is that also going to be 'bailed out' by the FED.

Carey Campbell
(09/20/10 3:25am)

Thank you for pointing out the importance of the elected Independent Green Party 5th Congressional District Chairman, Jeff Clark in this race.

Jeff Clark is a U.S. Army veteran, husband, father, and businessman.

Independent Green Party candidates both nominated and endorsed have been a sigificant and relevant factor in elections going back to the first Independent elected to U.S. Senate in the 1970's.

Ross Perot was impressive both in 1992, 1996. Nader as the Green Party candidate in 2000 had a significant impact on the debate. As did the Independent Green Party candidate Joseph Oddo in the 5th district in 2006.

Thanks for the story.

The Independent Greens of Virginia are at http://www.VoteJoinRun.US

Joel Taubman
(09/20/10 4:39am)

Jeff Clark is a "social and fiscal conservative." He is most identified with the Tea Party movement although much of that movement does not support him. He supports very few, if any, of the tenets in the Green Party platform.

(09/20/10 7:22pm)

"Since when does every person who can walk, talk, chew gum, and get a few hundred signatures deserve a podium." - Joel Try Sarah Palin in Wassilla, AK 1992-2007

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